SABMiller says Modelo and Heineken are thwarting beer competition in Mexico

By Crayton Harrison and Brendan Case

Grupo Modelo and Heineken are blocking consumer choice in Mexico, the world’s sixth-biggest beer market, with inducements to businesses to thwart rival brewers, SABMiller alleges.

Modelo, maker of Corona beer, and Dos Equis producer Heineken offer loans, upfront payments and refrigerators to restaurants and retailers that agree not to serve other brands, said Armando Valenzuela, the head of SABMiller’s Mexico unit.

The practice is the focus of SABMiller’s 2010 antitrust complaint against Mexico’s two largest brewers, the second time the London-based company has formally accused them of blocking competition. Mexico’s antitrust agency decided Feb. 14 to extend an inquiry into the complaint for 120 business days after grouping it with other cases filed by undisclosed parties.

“We haven’t been able to sell to clients because they’re exclusive with one or the other,” Valenzuela said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Mexico City office. “What we’re seeking is access to the market that we don’t have now.”

Mexico’s beer market is a prize for brewers because it’s still growing while U.S. and European consumption stagnates. Volumes will rise 2.9 percent a year to 73 million hectoliters (1.9 billion gallons) in 2015, according to research firm Plato Logic in London.